Speaking out against rape

Seven years ago, a 19-year-old girl was raped and impregnated at home by her uncle in the State of Kayin in Myanmar. Her family silenced and pressured her into aborting the child; their attempts failed and the girl gave birth to a baby boy.

This was just one of the many stories that moved Anglo-Burmese filmmaker Lindsey Merrison, who founded the Yangon Film School (YFS) in Myanmar 15 years ago. She encouraged her students to address the issue of rape as an outlet of anger, a war weapon and an instrument of repression. Twelve of her students made a series of four films on gender violence and submitted them to the World Health Organisation’s inaugural Health for All film festival in Geneva, which was held online this month. One of the four films, Limbo, an innovative sand animation documentary, which documented the story of the 19-year-old girl, walked away with the Grand Prix award and a grant of $10,000.

Speaking out against rape

Limbo’s theme was sensitive and the presentation too had to be so. We did not want to sensationalise the condition of a woman who is raped,” says Debjani Mukherjee, co-founder of BOL-The Language of Children, an NGO that trains novices in animation filmmaking to enable them to share their stories.

Debjani was brought on board by Lindsey as the animation tutor and has spent months at YFS conducting workshops for students there. “The students had collected a lot of material after speaking to survivors of gender abuse. It was challenging to weave them into a powerful commentary with a riveting presentation,” she adds. A Mumbai-based writer, Paromita Vohra, was also roped in as the audio trainer.

Speaking out against rape

Art can be a powerful medium to engage the youth and community with serious issues, believes Debjani. “It becomes a powerful tool of social engagement,” she says, adding that when making Limbo, the anonymity of the contributors had to be maintained while keeping their narration on injustice and violence hard-hitting. “We relied a lot on symbolism and decided to use the technique of sand animation. It is still an experimental medium in India. It involves an organic way of shifting sand with your hands to create a series of images and patterns,” says Debjani.

In her award-acceptance speech that she made online, Lindsey said recognising the film meant a fillip not only to her students but also to the women’s rights movement in the country. Violence against women in conflict-ridden Myanmar, with a population of 54 million, is said to be so pervasive that it is regarded as normal. Women, Lindsey said, are ostracised and blamed even if the perpetrators were found guilty, which in itself was a rare occurrence. Married women are often stuck with no financial or social means to escape and there is no specific law against domestic abuse. In Limbo, a real-life audio interview soundtrack is accompanied by animated images. It helped the protagonist to share intimate testimonials on a topic that is largely taboo in Myanmar and without cauing her to re-experience the trauma.

Speaking out against rape

The idea behind the initiative, according to Lindsey, is to help audiences understand that gender- violence is not a private affair but a matter of social concern, and that peace, security and equality are essential in order to create a society in which women’s lives are respected and protected.

Eh Doh Poe, one of the students involved in making the video, said the subject of rape is still a taboo in his country. He reiterated how Limbo was a way forward to protect the survivors of gender violence and give them a safe space and the confidence to speak up. Having endured silently all these years, the protagonist in Limbo wants to see her uncle behind bars and bring up her son in an equal society. “The film will hopefully give many more victims a voice,” says Debjani.

More winners

Other award-winning films at the Health for All festival include,

War and Grace from Sudan about a class of midwifery students

A Doctor’s Dream – A Pill for Sleeping Sickness from Democratic Republic of Congo about the neglected disease and the team of researchers and doctors who tirelessly worked to find a treatment for their patients

Limbo and the other prize winning films can be watched on WHO’s website

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2021 3:22:24 PM |

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